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World - Study Quantifying Parachute Science in Coral Reef Research Shows It's 'Still Widespread'

By analyzing 50 years' worth of coral reef biodiversity studies, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on February 22 have quantified the practice of "parachute science," which happens when international scientists, typically from higher-income countries, conduct field studies in another, typically lower-income country, without engaging with local researchers.

They found that institutions from several lower-middle- and upper-middle-income countries with abundant coral reefs produced less research than institutions based in high-income countries with fewer or in some cases no reefs. They also found that host-nation scientists (scientists from the nations where field research was conducted) were not included in authorship on studies almost twice as often when those studies were conducted in lower-income countries.

"Unfortunately, for decades, it was the norm for researchers from high-income nations and wealthy institutions to engage in parachute science practices and build successful academic careers because of that. It's only recently that people started discussing about unfair research practices in marine science," says first author Paris Stefanoudis, a postdoctoral researcher in zoology at Oxford University. "There wasn't any quantifiable evidence for it before now."

Part of the difficulty in quantifying parachute science is that it can take on a variety of different forms depending on the researchers and the country in question.

"As a person of color from a large ocean state, I've definitely experienced parachute science," says coauthor Sheena Talma, who is the Science Program Manager at Nekton Foundation in the UK and is from the Seychelles. "Some researchers apply for funding and only approach the local scientists once they've already got their grant. I've also seen researchers only take on partners in the host country just to make getting a permit easier."

To identify trends in parachute science, the researchers analyzed publication metrics from the database Scopus for 50 years of warm-water coral reef biodiversity-related research. First, they looked at which countries were publishing these studies around the world and compared this to the amount of coral reef habitat in each of those countries.

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